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Casa Grande Project: 1976 GMC Jimmy

We all witness “phenomena” in the car hobby: vehicles that suddenly become sought-after, white-hot after years of average sales and interest. This happens frequently with new models, and you see some folks get absolutely hammered when values fall of a cliff after the exclusivity of owning a car before anyone else does burns off. When the pandemic hit, we saw many people rush into owning Sprinters and other camper conversions, and pay incredible prices due to supply chain issues. I pose to you: has the popularity of the overland/camping lifestyle worn thin, or is it likely that projects like this 1976 GMC Jimmy Casa Grande listed here on eBay for $10,000 will still get restored?

Like the 21-window Volkswagen Type 2 variant, interest in these clever factory-authorized camper conversions took off in recent years after being on the sidelines as a mere curiosity. However, like the VW, I often wonder if non-enthusiasts go headlong into owning such a vehicle, only to spend a few months in one and realize the shortcomings such a rig has. It’s hard to say, but we have seemingly witnessed more of these Jimmys and their K5 Blazer twins come to market in recent years than ever before, with some absolutely wild prices for pristine examples.

But if you are determined to own a camper and it has to be of the vintage type, it’s hard to go wrong with a Casa Grande or the Chevy Chalet. Built in partnership with Chinook Mobilodge, Inc., the camper shell installed on the bed was surprisingly spacious and expanded upwards to create even more space. My favorite feature of the design was the removal of the “wall” between the cab and the bed, so you could freely move between the camper and the passenger compartment without having to go outside – just like a full-size motorhome.

A standard V8 engine was offered with the option for a manual or automatic transmission. Most were automatics, not surprisingly, and given both the Casa Grande and Chevy Chalet had a short two-year production run, finding a three-pedal example is likely quite challenging. This GMC variant is said to have been parked in Arizona since 2003, so a proper restoration will be required, but hopefully one that doesn’t require any significant rust repair. While there may be fewer consumers rushing out to buy a six-figure Sprinter motorhome, driving one of these rigs to a campground will always be in style, in my opinion.

Comments

  1. Mike

    Where’s our resident expert on these things? Thoughts?

    Like 4
    • Rw

      To be so rare it sure seems a butt load of these show up for sale

      Like 8
      • Russell C

        Just curious – would you stipulate that the Kaiser Darrin is not equally rare if not more rare …. and that proportionally in comparison Chalets & Casa Grandes when it comes to production quantities, Kaiser Darrins are featured more often than these camper rigs? If so, and we were to apply your comment above to Kaiser Darrins, what would you be implying in that case?

        Like 0
      • Steve R

        Rw, I have a hunch every time one of these pops up for sale it’s featured on this site. I had never seen one nor knew of their existence until I saw one on this site.

        Steve R

        Like 5
    • Russell C

      The seller was kind enough to share a photo of the camper serial number plate with me, it is Casa Grande #0790 built in 8/76, plus it has an AZ state tag for RVs which is something I had not seen before (I’ve seen ’em for CA, MT & TN). To the best of my ability to tell, I didn’t have this already in my mega-spreadsheet list of 630+ I can individually ID via either photos or much older classified ads text. Longtime AZ residency probably means quite well for minimal rust compared to how well GM sheetmetal survives in other areas of the country, but arid conditions aren’t nice at all for vinyl and plywood, so the interior might present an uphill struggle for restoration. But if the paint can be polished out, that could save a bundle in restoration costs and make this a decent candidate for the rest of the work, where the ultimate cost might be under the going market rate for top end “factory showroom new appearance” which seems to be in the neighborhood of $40-$50k. Throw out the anomaly $125k Bring a Trailer auction of Chalet #0429, all the other bidders bailed out after the $47,500 point and the remaining 3 seemed not to have the first clue what they were looking at.

      Like 4
  2. HoA Howard A Member

    Who’s the expert? Me? Good heavens, no way, however, I do have a story whenever these come up. My opinions are my own, (or inherited from my dad) so don’t bother pestering me about that, but these are just the worst rendition of a vehicle. It’s a poor camper, and even worse vehicle to drive. Tippy, single digit fuel mileage, downright dangerous in a cross wind,( duals in back would help immensely) poor construction. The old man had one. He got it cheap at the auto auction, it was rolled( actually, there were 2 there that were rolled, he got the better one) The old man rarely lost money on whatever he did, but he lost it that time. He thought the camper could be repaired, nobody would touch it, so he thought, scrap the camper, just have a Blazer. Unh uh, they cut the panel above your head for the camper to fit, so a rear part of a Blazer won’t work. There’s better ways to see the great outdoors.

    Like 0
    • Russell C

      — “… they cut the panel above your head for the camper to fit …”

      No, GM did not. These camper units are on ’76 – ’77 Blazers, the cabover part of the camper unit sits on the Blazer or Jimmy cab roof, and when they are laboriously removed, there is often quite a bit of rust happening on the roof. I’ve seen several over the years where the camper unit was removed and the standard cap and regular tailgate put on, one example of the camper unit removal / rust on the factory cab roof is seen in the post #133 at this guy’s thread about his Chalet #0213: https://ck5.com/forums/threads/76-k5-blazer-chalet-put-the-ol-girl-out-to-pasture-literally.268849/page-7

      Like 1
    • Russell C

      (not sure what happened to the comment reply I posted here yesterday) The Chinook camper units’ cabover area had their own “floor,” there was no need for GM to cut away the cab roof areas on the Blazers & Jimmys, thus they never did. While it is laborious to remove the camper units – the long bolts down through the dinettes into the frames can rust in place and the camper wiring is spliced into the truck wiring – these can most certainly be removed and a standard rear seat, carpeting, cap and tailgate be installed, turning these back into ‘regular Blazers/Jimmys.’ I’ve seen many over the years this way minus the camper units, and the link I had in the comment yesterday showed one example of that.

      Like 1
  3. PaulG

    Funny, Casa Grande AZ is a relatively short trip from Tucson.
    Jeff, remember the Blazer/ Jimmy had no bulkhead to remove between the cab and rear seat storage area.
    This looks like a great choice for a restoration IF you’re able to take the time and do most of the work yourself.
    Having retired a year ago, and living only 3.5 hours away I’m kinda tempted; in fact going to visit my daughter in Tucson in a couple weeks!
    Just might have to check this one out…

    Like 6
  4. Troy

    Ok I’m probably going to upset a lot of people here but honestly I would semi restore it back into just a blazer and sell off the camper shell to someone else then just enjoy having a old school real blazer not the junk they are trying to pass off today

    Like 1
  5. Yale Rich

    Not a bad truck, I would clean it up @ use the truck only, no camper. The pic of under the hood they should have cleaned the spider webs away before viewing under hood-It’s been sitting for awhile!

    Like 0
  6. Mike McGonigle

    They only produced 225 of the GMC Casa Grande variants, pretty low total production. Body looks fairly solid on this one, Chinook interior will need some love. Cool unit.

    Like 1
  7. Dan

    Looks solid and it’s definitely a novelty but I anticipate spending 4 times the purchase price just to bring everything up to snuff, including getting this to run again. The interior looks like the “before” shots of a basket-case home on HGTV and the engine looks seized. Lotsa luck to the seller AND buyer.

    Like 0
  8. RMac

    Removal of the “wall” between the can and bed???
    Blazers do not have a cab or a bed it’s all one never any wall???

    Like 0
    • Russell C

      “… absense of the “wall” between the cab and the bed…” would have been the better phrasing there.

      Like 0
  9. RMac

    PaulG is exactly on target 🎯 no bulkhead in blazers
    But I would love to restore one of these but the cost would not be in my range

    Like 2
  10. Nice little camper

    Great little truck. Very happy to see one. Didn’t realize they where popping up. My dad had a GMC diesel pickup on order seems like about 9 months. Then on new years Eve 1976 he came home with one of these instead because he said he needed a tax right off. It was two tone brown 400 4bl auto. Full time four wheel drive 2 batteries. Large alternator. Had water heat and stove. Top popped up for the two sling type beds that folded out and locked into each other. Remove dinning table and benches fold out to make lower bed like most campers. If memory serves I think he paid 14k for it? The truck went from basically detroit to west branch at least twice a month for ever and at 15 with a permit me behind the wheel pulling a trailer. She was able to get 8 miles per gallon down hill with a strong back wind. She was also top heavy and a bit wobbly but that didn’t prevent my liquored up father from hitting the dirt bike trails. Rail road tracks or even truck pulls. Took us 3 days to get her unstuck from the blizzard of 77. Can’t tell you how hard it is to ride a snowmobile with a gumbo monster murder on the seat but after 4 trips and new tires that truck went threw snow and mud with no issues. It came with street tires for a better ride I guess. At about 200 k she spun a bearing. We put in a slightly oversized one but that only lasted about a week. It sat in a barn for 10 years before he finally sold it. I was sad when I heard he sold it. Really really liked that truck. Good machine and great memories. I think I might start keeping an eye out now I know they are popping up. Not sure on this one the seat cushions in camper are not original or even nice and price seems a bit high for non running.

    Like 2

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